Ahh, the Grant Park Summer Shade Festival. Grant Park, the oldest of Atlanta’s public greenspaces, comprises an idyllic space surrounded by Victorian and Craftsman homes, interspersed with mature trees and lush green fields. Such a genteel spot (designed by the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted for my fellow landscape/history junkies) becomes a raucous feast for all the senses each year at the Grant Park Summer Shade Festival. Engaging a wide demographic from those who recalled their ’90s college years of bands and festivals to the under-eight crowd that runs riot well past typical bedtimes, fueled by rip-roaring live music and the chemiluminescent magic of glow sticks.
My first encounter with the Grant Park Summer Shade Festival on August 27, 2016 was full of surprises and enlightenment on local and regional art and music. I went to the festival with a date who promised me that rockabilly bands would perform there–and those were the magic words. As a fan of all things 1950s, especially the music, I couldn’t possibly say no! I rarely had the opportunity to see rockabilly bands perform at festivals when I lived in other states (unless Rev. Horton Heat was in town), so I definitely think rockabilly has a greater following in the South (fitting for its region of origin, and good for me!)
I enjoyed what I heard of the three-piece rockabilly band Black Top Rockets, but at the time they played my date felt the hunger bug and we concentrated more on savoring the fare from the food trucks/conversing so I didn’t listen thoroughly enough to take a worthy review. If I see their show in the future, I’ll certainly write you decent post! They definitely looked natty on that stage:
Black Top Rockets: I Must See Y’all Again
As the sun began to set, we walked throughout the park, perusing the local art sold in the tents. As a music and portrait enthusiast, the work of Dirk Hays particularly caught my eye when I saw his portrait of Leadbelly, one of my favorite bluesmen of the 1930s: We wouldn’t have “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” by Nirvana without Leadbelly’s Version
Another cool artist I learned about was the Capman, a renowned Athens folk artist who travels in a bus covered in bottle caps, and Big Gully, who creates colorful wooden sculptures in various shapes such as guitars, Dia de los Muertes-style skulls, and peace signs:
A Colorful Assortment of Work from Big Gully
As we strolled along the displays, we heard the music from the main stage drifting towards us, including the strong bluesy rock vocals of Michelle Malone.
We made our way back to the field of the main stage and anticipation filled the air as the last act of the night, the Flat Duo Jets, took the stage. The surrounding crowd thickened, and I could tell THIS was the act the people were waiting for. The two-man band of the psychobilly genre, comprised of brother-sister duo Dex (lead singer) and Sara Romweber (drummer) began their repertoire. A steady stream-no, deluge–of raucous 50s-style rock’n’roll poured into the Grant Park evening. I found it hard not to starting dancing right then and there.
Dex Romweber’s intense growl ranged from the frantic to the forlorn, and the song that REALLY stood out to me was “Blues that Defy My Soul.” The familiar twelve-bar blues melody struck me as a direct descendant of a much older song–“Blues Stay Away from Me” the 1949 hit by the Delmore Brothers, an Alabama country, blues, and”hillbilly boogie” brother duo active from the 1920s to the 1950s. The brothers significantly influenced later acts and “Blues Stay Away from Me” has been covered by artists from the Everly Brothers and Gene Vincent to The Band. It struck me that Dex is a musician who certainly knows his rock roots, and I appreciate him all the more for it.
Hear both songs with the following videos:
The Delmore Brothers, “Blues Stay Away from Me,” 1949. Thank you kitsjuke for this Youtube video.
Note: this video is not from the Summer Shade Festival but is an example of “Blues that Defy My Soul” by the Dex Romweber Duo. Thank you djmarionette for this Youtube video.
The band at Summer Shade. I know this is a blurry picture–but it does capture the fiery frenzy that is Dex Romweber (pictured) and the Flat Duo Jets!
I was super grateful for the opportunity to experience the Grant Park Summer Shade Festival (thanks, Charles Natho!) and to put my thoughts to writing. It’s been great to learn about the festivals and wide variety of artists the region has to offer, and I can’t wait to post more.
Thank you for reading my first blog post. Stay tuned for more on music and art coming up!
Sneak peek: my next festival will be Georgia’s Spirit of Appalachia Food, Wine, and Art Festival